The Realities of the Casino

During one of the countless pharmaceutical ads on TV (in which we consumers learn which drugs to tell our doctor to prescribe to us) the list of side effects was being recited. Usually this takes up most of the commercial, and features the most intense smiling on the actors’ faces. Among the side effects we were to watch out for with this particular drug was an increase in gambling or sexual urges. Also beware of the urge to have sex on a Roulette table at a major casino?

RouletteWe know how sex can sometimes play hell with our minds, but gambling? Alcohol, smoking, and drug addictions are easy to understand. You are changing your body chemistry. Food and sex addictions are physical, too. But gambling? That’s just an activity. How can it be anything like drug addiction? If gambling is addictive, what else is?

The fact that casino gambling can be addictive is now understood even by rank and file citizens, but it does open questions about the human brain. How is such a thing addictive? The answer seems to be that anything with an intense emotional factor, anything that revs up the adrenaline and gets the dopamine flowing carries that possibility. So there are physical components of addiction to activities, just as with whisky. In the case of gambling, the activity can be absolutely ruinous, thus there are more chapters of Gamblers Anonymous than there are for, say, Bass Fishing Anonymous. Over a thousand chapters of G.A. exist worldwide. Included are Israel, Kenya, Japan, and the Kingdom of Jordan.

Showing a tender concern for the societal problem of compulsive gambling, the big American casinos now have warning labels. Little pamphlets and signs here and there caution about the affliction, and pass along the phone number of Gamblers Anonymous. It’s more than you would get from a back alley craps game, but how many compulsives are being helped is the question. It turns out the casinos aren’t losing much due to this public service campaign.

Gambling addictionGamblers Anonymous estimates that only 8% of the people who attend their first meeting are still abstinent a year later. That number goes up if the gambler is getting psychiatric counseling along with G.A., or has family members in Gam-Anon. Yes, for the loved ones of the compulsive gambler there is Gam-Anon, and Gam-A-Teen, offering us outsiders some vague hint at the dimensions of this problem.

Along with its lousy rates of recidivism, G.A. admits that vast numbers of problem gamblers never seek treatment in the first place. That’s part of their psychological profile. They are invincible and will persevere unto the winning of the Progressive Jackpot. If they can just come up with enough money to stay in the game long enough their luck is bound to change. Or maybe they will find some new book of slot machine strategy that is supposed to be red hot. (There are entire book stores in Las Vegas stocking nothing other than books of dubious strategies for winning in casinos.)

The compulsive gambler represents a small fraction of the people who play in casinos. Virtually everybody is losing, but only the small numbers of compulsives are there relentlessly, getting their lives gobbled up. The James Bond fantasy of gambling is fun, and everybody does it at some point. But if you’re inclined to pursue it in earnest, there are a few things to bear in mind.

The massive casinos of Las Vegas were not built by paying out winners. The losers, in their teeming millions, financed those palaces. (The construction of the Excalibur was paid for in cash. At the time it was the biggest hotel casino on Earth.) So the reality is the exact opposite of the first psychological impression one gets from looking at the casinos. They appear to be endless fountains of wealth. And they are, of course. Just not for you.

Casino games are all at least slightly slanted in favor of the house. Every last one. The game with the absolute worst odds of all is not to be found in casinos. It’s nearby your home – the scratch-ticket lottery. It has the rock-bottom worst odds, by far.

Some games (blackjack and craps) offer conservative, boring, strategies in which the player can get the odds down to almost 50-50. A coin toss. But who wants to bet significant amounts of money on a coin toss?

Slot loserWe now arrive at the ultimate scenario in the reality of gambling. Let’s say you are there and you’ve won a little something. That happens. You’re sitting there with a hundred dollar profit. Okay, what do you do? Leave the casino, drive to a bank and establish a savings account? You might hear about that concept at the casino’s stand-up comedy club, but the reality is you are going to “let it ride,” or keep gambling in hopes of scoring another hundred.

The longer you play the less likely you are to win, because the aforementioned odds favor the casino over the player over time. And the odds of hitting a major, decisive score are truly microscopic. So, you can see that to come out ahead in gambling you are going to have to win and win again, steadily and consistently. It is simply not going to happen.

Just as some people die from lightning strikes, big wins will happen every so often. That’s where the casino gets the smiling faces for their ad campaigns. But it’s like picking a few names out of a heavy telephone directory. The vast numbers of people are losing. A small percentage breaks even, or goes home with an insignificant win.

Want to gamble? Start a business.

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